Effective Management Needs Effective Communication

It seems like such an easy management win. Not liking the numbers early in the quarter? Time to sharpen the knives!

Too many times in my career I’ve seen executives react to lower than expected revenues and/or higher than expected costs by cutting their marketing and communications budgets. It’s seen as a no-pain action: The principals don’t have much juice to stop the slashing, the budget gap closes a bit, and everyone knows about “our sacrifice.”

The problem is that during hard times — we are waist deep at least in a global recession — should be the times when we make the most investment, taking market share, enhancing organizational reputation and demonstrating to employees that we’re in it for the long haul.

Worse yet, organizations tend to handle budget crises poorly, with executives hiding out and managers left repeating media speaking points that don’t address employee concerns. Here are three suggestions:
1. Don’t make decisions that gut long-term capabilities to close short-term budget concerns. In a volatile market, things can change quickly. We want to be ready to take advantage, not hamstrung trying to catch up.

2. Address the specific budget issue with targeted action, not across-the-board cuts. When I worked at KeyCorp years ago, every year, it seemed, we had a new program to cut costs. The only sustainable reductions came when leadership changed the strategy of the company — its overall mission and vision — and then adjusted the enterprise to fit that new strategy. Never use a “peanut butter” approach to cost cutting, it typically doesn’t work.

3. It is reasonable to change the communication strategy to fit the new reality — measurement and evaluation is critical to this process. If you don’t know what works and doesn’t work, you fall back on the jar of peanut butter for your approach. Other departments know their specific contributions to the bottom line, and so should we.

How prepared was your leadership team to communicate with its various constituencies during the financial crisis? They need to know how to prioritize audiences by business objective, choose the right messages and transmit the messages through the right vehicles. As the internal experts on communication, it’s up to us (to use the contemporary phrase) to Represent communication as a business process. Let’s get on it.

P.s., if you’re attending the PR News Measurement Conference in DC this week, find me. I’m on a panel on internal communication measurement in the afternoon.

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